Car naming is a tricky business. Once a name has been agreed, there are a number of checks to be made. The most crucial of which would be potential trademark infringements and global translation issues. Check out Pajero and Nova for just two of the most embarrassing translation problems.
But car manufacturers also need to ensure that the name fits within the brand architecture and indeed, the car's personality. If you're BMW, Audi, Saab or Mercedes, the job is made easier by having an historical reliance on a numerical system to differentiate between models and spec. But what if you don't? The results can be disastrous. Take for example the Mistubishi Carisma. Slight spelling difference aside, Mitsubishi really could have been had under the Trade Descriptions Act for such a wild and elaborate overclaim. Then there's the Nissan Sunny. A car so miserable that Nissan may have been better off calling it the Drizzle.
So by calling their range topping car the Superb, Škoda is taking somewhat of a risk. I mean come on, there's little room for error when you choose to name a car using an adjective that has the following definition;
- admirably fine or excellent; extremely good: a superb performance
- sumptuous; rich; grand: superb jewels
- of a proudly imposing appearance or kind; majestic: superb mountain vistas
So clearly we're not dealing with passable or barely adequate here. No, Škoda has set its stall out to impress and with prices ranging from just shy of £18k up to an eye watering £35k after some fun with the options boxes, the Superb really has to shine. Jokes about Škoda might be as dated as series of 'It ain't half hot Mum', but the company could be left hearing the sound of canned laughter if the car doesn't deliver. Conversely, it might be Škoda's competitors who are left with egg on their faces if the Superb does what it says on the boot. So who has the last laugh?
It must be pointed out that the Superb name is nothing new. In fact, the name first appeared back in the 1930s and more recently was reintroduced for the previous generation Superb which was phased out in 2008. This car was little more than a rebadged Volkswagen Passat with a longer wheelbase and quickly became a firm favorite with taxi drivers and private hire firms. The new car was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2008, this time utilising the Octavia platform, but once again finding favour on the taxi ranks. But it was at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009 when people began to sit up and take notice of the Superb. For it is here that Škoda launched the estate version - a car of huge proportions and ambition.
Having spent a week in the company of a Superb, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer scale of the thing. In reality, this review should be listed under 'houses' rather than 'cars' - it is that big. Škoda's press pack proudly states that the car has a whopping 633 litres of boot space with the rear seats up and 1,865 litres with the seats down. Seriously, I've stayed in hotel rooms smaller than that. I think Škoda is a missing a trick with the comparison charts though. Yes, it is interesting that the boot volume is 58 litres bigger than the Volvo V70, but I'd be comparing it to lock-up garages, warehouses and small countries. Crucially and perhaps understandably, there's a noticeable absence of other Volkswagen and Audi models in the comparison charts, but more on this later on.
Did I mention how big the thing is? As luck would have it, the loan of the Superb estate coincided with a weekend away with the family, giving me an ideal opportunity to give it some real world testing. As is normal for a couple of nights away with the wife and two small children, you end up packing what appears to be the entire contents of your house. It swallowed the overnight crates with such ease that I contemplated putting the kitchen sink in there just for comedy value. A weekend away with the children also meant fixing the child seats into the back which was done with relative ease. Unfortunately I managed to lose the children on at least two occasions over the weekend, such is the amount of space and legroom in the back seats. And there's one small test you don't often see in car reviews - that of the 'child kicking the back of the seat' factor. Well in the Superb there's simply no chance of this happening - unless your children happen to be junior stilt walking champions.
So when it comes to space, the Superb is laughing loudest. But what about toys? After all, in this sector and at these prices, buyers expect a few bells and whistles. Can the Superb estate deliver or is it as pleasing as a swirling bow tie or water-squirting plastic flower?
Well in Elegance trim, the Superb has enough toys to fill an entire episode of The Gadget Show. Dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control, full leather upholstery, 18" alloys, heated seats, touch screen sat nav, bi-xenon headlights with the impressive AFS (Adaptive Front-light System), multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity...the list goes on. In fact, it is probably easier to go through a list of toys that the Superb doesn't have. Elegance specification can be bought for as little as £23,500 and with this you'll get the 1.8 TSI petrol engine. Indeed, with the exception of the added 7-speed DSG gearbox, this was the actual car I tested. In truth, most people, in particular fleet buyers, will opt for the economy of the 2.0 TDI diesel engine. But the mid-range 1.8 engine is quiet, refined, punchy enough with 160bhp and on test returned MPG figures in the high 30s. Impressive given the size of the car and nature of the driving I did, but nothing to rival the 43 to 51 MPG expected from the ubiquitous 2.0 TDI engine. If it was me though, I'd be going for the full fat and anti-establishment 3.6 litre V6 4x4 edition. With 260 bhp, the car is propelled to 62 mph in just 6.6 seconds. With the grace and opulence that the Superb estate exudes, this is tantamount to fitting a set of superchargers to your favourite boutique hotel and launching it up the A1.
So the Superb estate is big and loaded with toys - end of story, right? Well no, not quite - how does it feel once on the road? It is worth pointing out that during the entire week, the temperatures never managed to exceed freezing and our weekend away started and finished with a 125 mile trip across five counties. Dartmoor gave us a full-on snow shower by way of a send-off and numerous road closures and delays meant that the journey took the best part of four hours. But such is the calming and serene nature of the Superb estate, that it never felt arduous or problematic. The climate control and heated seats are an obvious attraction when the temperatures hit -10, but the car feels stable and relaxed even in the most demanding conditions. The handling could never be described as sporty, but it is questionable whether anyone would want this from a car of this nature*. But it isn't as detached and wallowing as you might expect it to be. The DSG gearbox does without the paddle shift that's available on the Fabia vRS and as a result, manual gear changes can only be achieved through the chunky gearknob. As a result, you tend to stick in automatic mode. The 6-speed manual 'box is probably the one to go for if you want to retain some semblance of driving fun.
The ride is impressive too, with the Superb estate turning even the most uneven of road surfaces in a ribbon of silk tarmac. It is whisper quiet too, so much so that a friend of mine who suffers from poor hearing actually heard the clicking of the indicators for the first time in her life. A small but practical demonstration of the car's quietness. Indeed, the comfortable and relaxed nature of the Superb estate's interior is so peaceful and serene that you might find yourself spending a day away in the car just to get away from it all. It is the little things that matter, like the piece of leather on the reverse side of the interior door handles, which themselves are illuminated, Or the 'Catvision' interior illumination that creates a soft glow in the cabin - everything is set-up to make you feel better. I'd even go as far to say that it made me a better, more tolerant driver during the week I had the pleasure of running it. These cars should be standard equipment on UN peacekeeping missions - stick two warring dictators in a Superb estate for the weekend and they'd return as best friends and poking each other on Facebook.
I can quite easily see why some people have been led to the conclusion that the Škoda Superb estate is one of, if not the best car in the world right now. Even at £30k, the Superb is supremely good value for money, especially when you take a look at the competition. Of course, one notable absence from the Škoda press pack is the Audi A6 Avant. Before you've even started to tick the option boxes, you need to part with £27,950 and that simply gets you behind the wheel of a poverty-spec, non-quattro 2.0 TDIe. For that price you can drive away in the Elegance 2.0 TDI...with 4x4. Less a case of 'fire up the quattro', more a case of 'quattro, you're fired'.
Here's the thing. The Superb estate is better looking than the A6, more spacious than the A6, is better equipped than the A6 and is much, much better value than the A6. I seriously think that the Volkswagen Group has shot itself in the foot by creating this car. Although many UK buyers still have a ridiculous aversion to the Škoda badge, there is no denying the significance of this car. It will attract new buyers and I'm almost certain that some of these will be at the expense of Volkswagen or Audi. In fact, it reminds me of Audi Avants from the late 80s and 90s. Well engineered, discreet, brilliantly packaged and socially acceptable on any given occasion.
Audi may hold all the aces when it comes to current sales, brand power and heritage, but Škoda has played the joker with the Superb estate. Who will have the last laugh? Audi, it is your turn - stick or twist?
*Skoda, if you're reading, I'd like a vRS version please. Thank you.